Many of us must have watched this commercial that seeks to promote a new women’ television station and are wondering how come the regulator has not recalled it nor has there been massive public outcry. Yet it is sending the wrong message to our children on gender stereotypes. It actually exemplifies the pervasiveness of misogyny in our society. It goes “who does all the chores?” and the answer “girls” who takes selfies and the answer “girls” and on and on it goes. When little girls and boys watch this absurd commercial, they don’t just accept this as the norm but it shapes their long term perspective. This is how stereotypes hurt all of us and are passed on from generation to generation.
In fact my sons have already started to refer to this advert to challenge some of my efforts to reject gender stereotypes. The generation of kids we are raising need feminist men and women more than ever. And not just “oh, men and women are equal” but feminist men who will stand to men who aren’t and say “No, that is not ok”
In previous engagements, many feminists have shared that it is critical for us to begin early to create gender awareness. Between the age of three and five the consciousness of gender transforms into solidified opinions informed by the culture around children. What they learn about gender at this young age will shape their world view. For example, Dr. Maggie Kigozi who has broken many ceilings, being among the first woman in male dominated sectors, at recent Women in Leadership platform asked why girls are given dolls to play with while boys are provided with science gadgets to stimulate their minds and then we continue to decry the dominance of men in STEM.
As mothers it is also important to lead by example and show our sons that women are just as strong, smart, just as capable. We have to share stories of amazing things that women have done historically and doing now. The other critical thing is to ensure that when they say things that uphold oppressive social norms is to immediately correct him. I know kids pick up a lot of stuff at school but we can counter it. When my sons go to school and their friends’ call girls names, I want them to be able to say “Man that is not cool.” On the other hand I will also let my sons know that it is okay to cry and help them redefine strength if his instinct is to clench his fist.
We also need to de-emphasize labor division in the home and the whole stereotype that girls cook and do dishes while boys sit and watch television or help daddy wash the car must be tackled head on. There is no women’s work. There is no mans work. There is work and we are a team. Every member is valuable.
There is definitely no silver bullet as to how to raise sons to respect women, but instilling the value of gender equality from birth means that our sons will be better equipped to operate in a world where women are increasingly and rightfully in positions of power. I can only hope that by planting seeds which grow into the movement that will.